Friday, June 17, 2016

June 16, 2016

Dear Family,

This afternoon we had a meeting with Elder Marcos Aidukaitis of the Area Presidency and Brother Stephen Peterson who is the head of the Church Welfare Department worldwide.  There were about 15 people in the room including a new brother from Argentina who will just recently received the same calling as Fernando Souza but for the very south of SA.  Elder Aidukaitis emphasized the payment of the fast offering but more than that, the power of fasting each month.  He also wondered how many wards in Brazil actually have a qualified specialist who can train ward members in need how to be self sufficient.  He said there should be a plan for each member involved.  He can be really serious but then be really funny.  He lightened up the meeting a lot and at the same time taught us a lot.  

Well, going back to our trip to Petrolina.  When the meeting started on Saturday night, I asked the bishops, relief society presidents and stake leaders how many of them were members of the Church before 1971 (the year I arrived in Brazil as a missionary).  Not one single member raised their hand.  That is an example of the growth of the Church here in every corner of the country.  The stake president said, "I wasn't even born then."  Mom spoke and then we did our slide presentation.  I asked a lot of questions and had a microphone going around so people could answer and be heard.  It seemed to work out well.  I started to tell the story that President Oliveira had related to me about a sister who was raising three grandchildren on her own, her husband out of work, and wondering what she could do to bring in some income.  She prayed and prayed and when she heard about the 'quail project', she said, "I can do that."  Well, President Oliveira tapped me and said, "Elder, she is here tonight."  So I called on her and she graciously stood and bore her testimony again about her experience.  

We spent all day visiting members who have already built their little quail living spaces (viveiros).  Many are using a room attached to their home or a bedroom to convert into a quail coop.  Imagine yourselves doing that in your homes.  That is how desperate many people are and they will sacrifice to be able to make some income.  So many are unemployed.  We went into one home and a sister who is mom's age answered the door and invited us in.  Seated at the computer and doing her best to use it was a sister in her 30s who looked like she had probably been born with cerebral palsy, but that was not the case.  She fell from a hammock as a baby and it damaged her brain and spinal cord to the extent that she is paralyzed from the waist down and poor muscular control of her arms and hands.  She was delighted for us to visit.  I hope we get to go back there.  They had a room already to go for their quail.  I found out that the older sister was President Oliveira's mother-in-law.  Later in the car, I asked him where the husband was and he said, "That is a sad story."  The husband had one failure after another and finally committed suicide.  It had only been a year and a half ago.  Anyway, we got real close to all those families and we are going to work hard for them so they can have a chance to be self-sufficient again.  Well, mom already talked a lot about this so I won't go on.  On Sunday though, we both bore our testimonies and after, a little girl came up to me and said, "Are you the temple president."  Made me feel good.  One other little girl at a home we visited was having her birthday and I quietly slipped a R$10.00 into her hand and said, "I forgot to buy you a present so maybe you can get a treat with this."  She was my very best friend for the rest of the time we were there.  Love these people and would do anything for them.  I love all of you and the support you give to us.  We do need and appreciate your prayers.

Love, DAD

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

June 7, 2016 - Another busy week...

Dear Family,

We had hoped to be busy when we returned in May and boy, did we ever get our wish!  It is much better to be busy, though.  We went up to Petrolina on Friday and visited members all day on Sat. and we went to church on Sunday and came home early Monday morning.  That's about it.  NOT!

We did leave on Friday.  The Stake President from Petrolina picked us up at the airport and greeted us in English.  Turns out that he lived in the US for 15 or 16 years.  He graduated from UVU and served a mission in Washington DC.  His entire family lives in Saratoga Springs, Utah and all on the same street!  He said that every year after general conference, Elder Scott would give a fireside to all of the Brazilians living down in that area and encourage them to return to Brazil because they need leaders so badly down here.

We went to Petrolina to look at a quail raising project.  The people are really poor up there.  There isn't much industry and so there is a lot of poverty.  The stake leaders want to do this project to help the people rise above the poverty level.  The stake president said that a lot of people only make around R$700 (Brazilian reals) a month which is approx. $200.  They have the possibility of raising their income to R$3000 a month ($860).  

Now for this project, imagine walking into your house and going into the first bedroom on the left and having 200 quail in there.  For some people that is what is happening.  That is the only space they have and things are so bad for them that they are willing to do anything to make a little more money.  Most of the people we saw at least had a small space on their back or front porch.  They are raising the quail for the meat even though quail eggs are very popular down here.  You can find them in Brazilian restaurants in the US also.  An earlier Brazilian welfare missionary couple told these people that if they wanted a project that they had better do all of the preliminary work first to prove that they were really interested.  Well they did.  I will attach some pictures of what they have done to prepare.

We visited 10 or 11 families on Sat. starting at 8:00 am.  We visited the families until around 6:00 p.m. and then we set up for a meeting with all of the bishoprics and relief society presidencies from the whole stake.  We gave a presentation on paying fast offerings and following the Lord's plan of self-reliance.  We even talked about the Teton Dam disaster, not even realizing that it was the 40 year anniversary of the break.  We were beat when we got back to our hotel!  

On Sunday a member picked us up at 8:30 and took us to church.  Boy, you would have thought that we were celebrities or something!  After the meetings we got swarmed by a group of young women who are preparing to go on missions!  Several of them gathered around us to have their pictures taken with us!  Brazilian people are very "touchy, feely."  During R.S. one of those young women sat by me and before I knew it her arm was around me and she started rubbing my shoulder a little!  Another lady turned to me and asked me how old I was.  I would never think of asking someone their age in the US!  While we were in our "photo shoot" one young lady came up and started running her fingers through my hair and then she kissed my head all ..the while saying, "Que linda, que linda," which means basically "You're so pretty."  It was a little embarrassing but at the same time it does make you feel good.  By the way, the people down here love my name.  Paula is an extremely popular name in Brazil and they are very surprised when I tell them that it isn't a popular name in the US.

One lady we met has had a very sad life.  She has a daughter who, as a baby, fell out of a hammock and banged her head badly.  They didn't take her to the doctor and she became paralyzed and pretty much lost control of her limbs.  I thought that she had been born with cerebral palsy but it was from that accident.  The lady's husband committed suicide two years ago as well.  I guess that nothing ever went right for him and he couldn't take it anymore.  It was sad.  I found out that she was my age but I would have guessed that she was 10 or 15 years older than me.

One thing we learned while we were in the MTC is that the United States is NOT the real world.  There is a lot of suffering out there.  This week, on Sat., Sister Burke and I are giving a presentation about the refugees here in Sao Paulo.  We visited a "rescue mission" in the center of the city last week and visited with a Catholic priest who is working hard to help the refugees and immigrants coming into Brazil.  We are talking a little bit about our own ancestors who were persecuted and driven out of their homes by the mobs.  I just didn't realize that they were refugees until general conference in April.  We have also included some pictures from my ward in Rexburg of our Relief Society activity where the sisters brought clothing to donate.  

It has been a good week, tiring but very good.  My problem now seems to be how to handle associating with these people who have nothing.  I remember telling Grandma when we left the MTC that I hoped I would be able to handle the suffering that I will see.  It is hard.  I feel like we live like kings and queens back home and yet, by our standards, our home is very plain and ordinary and quite small.  It would be a mansion to many people down here.  We are truly blessed.

I love you all very much.  Please stay close to the gospel.  It is very easy to see how hard it is for people who don't have a strong testimony to fall back on.  Also, especially to our grandchildren, get all of the education you can.  It makes a huge difference in life.  It was very easy to see the difference between people who were educated and those who were not.  The only thing we can take with us to heaven is what we learn in this life.

Have a great week.


P.S. Hi all.  I forgot to tell you something.   Our weather has been very strange.  It is supposed to be the dry season but we have had a TON of rain.  Last night Dad and I were going to go to FHE, even though it was raining.  Our gutters were like rivers so we had to cross our street and turn the corner and go up by our bus stop in order to make it across.  We had to wait for the light to turn red and lots of cars were passing us and the water was flying everywhere.  Somehow we managed to stay dry, until a truck came by that it.  I'm sure that he swerved just enough to send a spray of water that absolutely drenched us!  Needless to say, we went back home.

The other thing is that a terrible storm went through Campinas on Sunday night.  They estimated that 1,000 trees were blown down.  Many roofs were ripped off of homes and the Galleria shopping mall was badly damaged.  You can find a video of the destruction online.  I'm pretty sure I heard someone mention Parque Taquaral.  There were some members whose homes were damaged.

Love you.

P.S.S.  The first picture is at the rescue mission with Father Paolo Parisi.  Fernando, Sis. Burke and a Brazilian member, Sister Kawai are with us.  The second one is a family who are raising a "garden" along with getting their quail area ready.  Third, preparing the quail coop. Fourth, the lady I mentioned in the letter.  I hope that you think I look younger! :) Fifth, A members house. Sixth, a "quail coop."

1. Petrolina; 2.  Our plane; 3.  farmland and orchards (Petrolina raises more grapes and mangos than anywhere else in Brazil.  They ship their fruit all over the world); 4.  The stake president (on left) and his counselor who took us to do the visits.